Find your way around the night sky! Below is a free sky map for February 2016 as well as a printable version, courtesy of astronomer Jeff DeTray.
Sky Map for February 2016
Each month, Jeff DeTray’s Sky Maps provides a sky map which highlights beautiful events in the evening sky—stars, constellations, planets, conjunctions with the Moon, meteor showers, and other amazing celestial objects. Follow more of Jeff’s sky adventures at AstronomyBoy.com.
Click-and-Print Sky Map
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
Sky Map Highlights: February 2016
Jupiter, the King of Planets
The giant planet Jupiter and the constellation Leo the Lion are paired together in the February sky. Take the opportunity to view the King of Planets and the celestial King of Beasts—even if cold weather sends you scurrying back indoors after only a few minutes.
Look for Jupiter in the late evening during February. It’s located fairly low in the sky in the east-southeast. Jupiter is hard to miss, being the brightest object in the sky other than the Moon.
By any measure, Jupiter is a mighty planet. Its mass is greater than that of all the other planets in our solar system added together. More than a thousand Earths could fit inside Jupiter with room to spare! Plus, at least 67 moons orbit Jupiter. Not for nothing is it known as the King of Planets.
Jupiter is one of five planets known since ancient times. It became one of the first celestial objects ever observed with a telescope when Galileo Galilei turned his crude instrument toward it in 1610.
Leo, the Lion in WInter
In February, and for the next few months, Jupiter sits near the hind foot of Leo the Lion. Leo is among the few constellations whose outline truly resembles its namesake. Many ancient cultures, some dating from at least 6,000 years ago, perceived a lion when gazing upon this part of the sky. This makes Leo one of the oldest constellations to be recognized
The bright star Regulus represents the heart of the lion. Regulus is the 21st brightest star in the sky. However, when you compare it with Jupiter, the planet is clearly the brighter of the two.
Four stars in the head and neck of Leo have Arabic names relating to the lion’s anatomy. Starting with the head of Leo, we have Ras Elased and Rasalas, meaning the “southern/northern star of the lion’s head,” respectively. Next come Adhafera, the “curl,” which refers to the lion’s mane, followed by Algieba, the “forehead.” You might wonder why a star so clearly located in Leo’s mane or neck is called the forehead. Unfortunately, the reasoning behind the name is lost in the mists of time.
From Algieba, look to the left along Leo’s back to find Zosma. Located on the hip of the lion, Zosma is an ancient Greek word meaning “girdle.” Just below Zosma is Chertan, a name referring to the “ribs” of the lion. This also seems slightly out of place, given the anatomy of a lion. Not so with Denebola, whose very appropriate name comes from the Arabic for “tail of the lion.”
The Smaller Lion
If you are stargazing from a very dark location, you might be able to see another lion in this region of the sky. Not far above the head and back of Leo sit a sparse collection of dim stars comprising Leo Minor, or Smaller Lion. Compared to the very recognizable figure of Leo, the Smaller Lion looks nothing like any sort of animal. Whereas Leo is a constellation of great antiquity, Leo Minor is a newcomer. Astronomer Johannes Hevelius invented the name in 1687 to identify the mostly empty space between Leo and Ursa Major.
Compared to the King of Planets and the King of Beasts, Leo Minor is a mere afterthought.
FEBRUARY 2016 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge (PDF)
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
See our Sky Watch page for more highlights of the monthly sky, courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.